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Climate change intensifying threats to plant health says United Nations

Rome-based FAO says global heating helping pests and diseases

(ANSA) - ROME, MAY 13 - The Rome-based United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said that the climate crisis is having a major impact on plant health, exacerbating the spread of plant pests and diseases.
    It said climate change is creating favourable conditions for these pests and the survival of specific plant diseases in new areas.
    It said global heating has already had a hand in expanding the host range or distribution of pests such as the red palm weevil, Fall armyworm, fruit fly, desert locust and emerald ash borer.
    This is not just bad news for plants.
    The FAO pointed out that plants are responsible for 98% of the oxygen humans breathe and make up 80% of our daily calorie intake.
    It said that each year up to 40% of food crops is lost to plant pests and diseases, with losses in yields and income having a devastating effect on the poorest communities who base their livelihoods on agriculture.
    The mark the International Day of Plant Health, which was celebrated for the first time on Thursday May 12, the FAO detailed five examples of the increasingly dangerous diseases that are increasingly threatening plant health due to the climate crisis.
    1) Potato late blight. Late blight is a disease that attacks potatoes and tomatoes and is caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans. In tomatoes, the disease causes lesions on leaves, petioles and stems, while potato tubers develop a rot up to 15 millimetres deep. In Egypt, increasingly warm and wet weather is promoting potato late blight epidemics, allowing the pathogen to accumulate earlier in the growing season.
    2) Coffee leaf rust. This fungal disease affects the leaves of the coffee plant. . Global warming seems to help to reduce the incubation period of the pathogen, meaning that more generations of the pathogen can develop in a growing season.
    3) Banana Fusarium wilt. This is a lethal fungal disease caused by the soil-borne fungus, Fusarium oxysporum TR4. Entering the banana plant through the roots, the fungus blocks the flow of water and nutrients to the plant cells, gradually devastating the leaves. Eventually, this disease leads to the death of the plant. High temperatures as well as extreme environmental events such as cyclones, both common impacts of climate change, can increase the risk of banana Fusarium wilt.
    4) Xylella fastidiosa. This is a bacterium transmitted by several species of sap-sucking insects, like leafhoppers, infecting several economically important crops, such as grapevines, citrus, olive, almond, peach and coffee, and in ornamental and forestry plants. The bacterium blocks the host's ability to absorb water, ultimately causing an internal drought.
    Xylella is prevalent primarily in the Americas, southern Europe, including Italy, and the Near East, but has the potential to expand beyond its current distribution.
    5) Grape downy mildew. Triggered by the Plasmopara viticola fungus, downy mildew is an extremely serious fungal disease of grapes that can cause heavy losses in crops. The risk of severe grape downy mildew outbreaks increases as climate change alters temperatures in many regions. (ANSA).


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